August 9, 2019. Life / Back from the Brink
RUSSELL A. MITTERMEIER, ANTHONY B. RYLANDS, WES SECHREST, PENNY F. LANGHAMMER, JOHN C. MITTERMEIER, MICHAEL J. PARR, WILLIAM R. KONSTANT, RODERIC B. MAST
The Vicuña is one of the few native, large herbivores of South America and lives above elevations of 3,200 meters in high Andean ecoregions of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. It has developed extraordinary adaptations to cope with harsh conditions and high elevations. The Vicuña’s protection from extreme temperature fluctuations has resulted in the rarest, finest, and most valuable natural fiber in the world.
Before the European conquest, Vicuña fiber was sacred, and only sheared for making special garments used exclusively by the Inca. After the European domination, this highly prized species became, in little over a century, an open-access resource that was persecuted and hunted to the brink of extinction. By 1960, it was estimated that the Vicuña population had dropped from its precolonial population of 2 million to an estimated 10,000 individuals.
International, regional, and national conservation efforts were successful in halting further population decline. In the case of Peru, conservation efforts started in Lucanas with the establishment of the Pampa Galeras Reserve and research and conservation programs. Strict conservation regulations, through the Vicuña Convention, and inclusion in CITES in 1975, helped to rebuild populations.
In 1979, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Ecuador signed the Convention for the Conservation and Management of the Vicuña. These efforts illustrate concerted collaboration in conservation and the effectiveness of sustainable use of wildlife.
Conservation Status: Least Concern
This is an excerpt from the CEMEX Nature Series Book “Back from the Brink” (2017)